by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter
NFL fans in Jacksonville have had it rough over the past few years. There was speculation that the team was being shipped off to Los Angeles (even though the team is in a lease with Jacksonville until 2027). Not to mention, while the fair city (and home base of MECLABS) may have hosted a fantastic Super Bowl in 2005, it's home team has never played in one.
The heavy losses and speculation has given the impression that "The Bold New City of the South" was seemingly less bold and more defeated.
Then, mustachioed hero and new owner Shahid Khan rode in with a promise to turn the team around, and a revived energy coursed through the franchise.
New marketing efforts were whipped up, giving fans a battle cry to rally behind and to slap on t-shirts and the backs of pick-up trucks all over the city: ALL IN.
It encompassed the all or nothing atmosphere. The chips are down, but our luck is changing. A successful slogan, by all standards but one.
The hashtag #ALLIN is a blemish on an otherwise commendable comeback campaign. Its meaning is not immediately apparent, an especially unfortunate misstep for a franchise that is attempting expansion into the entire north Florida region.
Fans (including yours truly) who were simply unaware of the campaign, thought it might a player -- who is this new Allin guy? Or did they just misspell? That is too many questions to ask over a hashtag.
"I think the Jaguars made two other critical mistakes," said Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. "One, they didn't pay attention to the biggest news stories about the franchise in the pre-season. Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's top rusher and the Jags' best player was holding out. So, in the most literal sense, they weren't ‘All In.' And that's what I thought every time I saw the hashtag.
"Second, the conversation on the hashtag isn't exclusive to the Jaguars, which is the whole point of a hashtag -- to create a conversation around a single topic. From ‘Just need a women who can just believe in me #Allin' to ‘Girls Varsity Soccer battles Medford to a 0 - 0 tie........#ALLIN,' the majority of the conversations have nothing to do with the Jags."
Will the hashtag cause any real damage? Probably not. Its mistake is in being an opportunity lost.
The service a Twitter hashtag provides is a way "to somehow reward those who have been loyal to following you. That is the low-hanging fruit, that's easy," said Patrick Foster, Digital Projects Director for Retail and Education, Gannett. "Another thing is, how can you position a hashtag or a campaign to grow your following?"
With the college sports sphere embracing social media wholeheartedly, Jeremy Martin, Associate Sports Communications Director, University of Cincinnati, knows the importance of a hashtag. He spends a good portion of his time updating the @GoBEARCATS account, analyzing Twitter statistics, and scanning hashtag conversations.
The official "#Bearcats" is used consistently (in homage to the school's mascot), with several others in rotation for special events. The university takes its efforts in social media so seriously that #Bearcats was spray painted on the field in anticipation of its season-opening game, televised on ESPN. The department decided it was an ideal opportunity to spur conversation, give an official feel to the hashtag and stave off variations.
"The Bearcats hashtag really brings our fan base together. The opener, a national game on ESPN, we are the only game going on that night … we like to say those types of games are like four-hour commercials for your school, especially at home. Now we use [the hashtag] on the field, and we use it in advertisements, we use it on billboards, we use it in our promotional material," Martin said.
Twitter's potential for allowing nearly instantaneous reactions (a double-edged sword, but more on that later) and commentary on events can be used as an advantage.
During last year's NCAA tournament, the athletic department quickly strategized to rally followers as the University of Cincinnati prepared to play rival Ohio State:
"Ohio State has been the big dog in the state for so long … So we really wanted to involve it in this Buckeye State movement where we had the U and the C capitalized to represent Cincinnati, so we had #bUCkeyestate."
That hashtag was the most retweeted in its account's history up to that point with 242, and now just the tweet of the final score of their opening game reached 220. A hashtag can do much more than categorize a message; it can fan the flames and represent your followers.
"I think what we've seen here at USA Today is that the most effective composition of social media should always be a team. You should never allow one person to run that thing unchecked," Foster said. "There always has to be some sort of checks and balances system."
Foster advises pairing an experienced marketer with a younger team member who can bring new ideas and energy -- having the experienced person act as another line of defense against mistakes or offenses.
His advice beyond that is simple: Show it to a bunch of different people.
"Take it outside of your department or even outside of your building. You have to understand how people who have no knowledge of what you're doing react to it."
You may think Twitter is the one area of marketing that doesn't require a lot of research, but you would be wrong.
"It's an important thing to understand what's already going on out there, and Twitter is a fabulous search tool," Foster said. "[There are] lots of search options and add-ons that will allow you to go way back to figure out has anyone done this already and if they did, what happened?"
Martin monitors for talking points, issues that need addressing and any rogue hashtags concerning the school. He regularly keeps up with fan conversations by monitoring #Bearcats (among other university-related hashtags), allowing him to retweet and recognize fans for particularly compelling tweets.
When the official "#Bearcats" hashtag was chosen, Martin said variations were tossed around before it was chosen upon discovering that other schools used the mascot as well. The department decided they were comfortable with potential overlap by smaller schools, and research allowed them to confidently make the decision while aware of potential problems.
"There are so many great tools available in social media analytics, you can really figure out what works and what doesn't pretty quickly," Foster said.
"You can see if this [hashtag] is blowing up in the wrong direction, or worse, no one is paying attention to it at all. In some ways, I'd rather have one that people are making fun of than one that no one is paying attention to -- crickets in the room is absolutely the worst thing."
Martin shared the tools the athletic department has found helpful:
A social media campaign "can easily backfire," advises Foster.
Integrating a social media discussion into any campaign is vital to avoid unnecessary mistakes and to ask questions that will help shape every aspect -- down to the hashtags.
"What we try to do before we get into that space is figure out first what is the ideal goal for this. It is an examination of thinking about it backwards. We need to think about what the ideal result for us would be, and then walk backwards from that goal," Foster said.
It is going to happen. At some point, a mistake will be made. It may not be a total calamity, but like every after-school special taught us, learning from it is what's important.
A recent horror story that kept marketers up at night concerned online clothing store Celeb Boutique. After news broke of the shootings in Aurora, Colo., those tweeting the news quickly latched on to #Aurora. Celeb Boutique tweeted, "#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;)"
The company did not know, and did not bother to check, the context of the trend before using it -- a frequently skipped step in the attempt to bring the brand into a global conversation. They not only lost followers, but also offended those tracking the hashtag and became a talking point for news outlets.
An important realization when using Twitter is that even if everything is seemingly done right, it can still go wrong.
Foster gives the example of when McDonald's paid to promote "#McDStories." It was set up for customers to share positive stories, but instead the fast food chain found itself the victim of a hashtag hijacking.
"In no time, it was flipped, and not only were people tweeting negative stories using the hashtag, but healthy eating groups latched onto it as well and spoke about how bad the food was for you," Foster said.
Foster likens it to dropping a match in a dry forest: "Before you know it, half of California is on fire."
"When a hashtag becomes a bashtag" is how Forbes referred to the incident. In that event, all you can do is monitor and attempt to change the conversation. McDonald's was extremely vigilant, stopping the promotion within two hours. Additionally, its social media director released a statement saying the company was continuing to learn from its experiences with Twitter.
When looking at a potential hashtag, Foster advised marketers to think about not only the objective you want to achieve, but also the possible ways it could be misused.
"You don't want to make something so broad that any other group can come in and be a part of it. … You want to focus it, and be wise."